Some things in life are scary. Like the tornado warnings we experience in our area. Or M. Night Shyamalan movies (Signs is the best). Or an unexpected letter from the IRS.
However, none of these things frighten the university students I teach. These thrill seekers go bungee-jumping, caving, and cliff diving. They sign up for internships in Latvia, serve in the slums of India, or stand up and make award-winning presentations to high-powered corporate executives. They seem to have nerves of steel.
Unless, of course, they're told, as I tell my classes, that they're required to attend a silent retreat for their senior capstone course.
Their universal response: sheer terror.
This isn't surprising for a generation that lives with a constant stream of noise and sensory input—iPods, cell phones, and computers. Their days are filled with lectures, discussions, and long conversations that extend well into the night. To think of experiencing life, even temporarily, without noise sends icy fear through their veins.
The Measure of Our Worth
While our specific reasons may differ from these techno-kids', our response to the idea of practicing silence may not. External distractions fill our lives as well: families, jobs, schedules, bills, church. Those voices may not have an electronic source, but when we're honest, we see that we have a certain "addiction" to them, not unlike the attachment that young adults have to technology. If the noise of our lives was absent, who would we be? What on earth would we do?1